At times, writing and teaching about wine can be a solitary experience. That's why I was happy to engage in some human to human contact at the recent Wine Tourism Conference held in the welcoming wine country town of Paso Robles, California.
As with most events of this kind, there was an often dizzying array of seminars to choose from, people to meet and re-connect with, and information to absorb.
Here is a quick and dirty rundown of what I considered to be the main take-aways, many of which were repeated over the course of the conference.
Disclosure: Wine tasting is a highly individual experience and, scientifically, none of us perceive wine in exactly the same way. The opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone and although the wines sampled were supplied by the designated wineries for review I describe them as I see them.
When you are a wine educator it’s natural that people ask you a lot of wine related questions. One of the most frequent queries has to do with price. Why, people ask, does one Chardonnay/Merlot (insert variety name here) cost more than another? Is it really worth paying more?
A while back, the Temecula Wine Council tasted a selection of wines that had one thing in common: they were all over $40 retail. Considering that the average price paid for a bottle of wine is around $6.30 1 to many imbibers out there, these prices are a splurge.
So let’s have a look at the wines we sampled and see if we can answer this burning question!
First up was a non-vintage white wine from Paso Robles, “Le Cuvier XLB Chardonnay Reserve”. (retail $55). The grapes were fermented with their skins, somewhat unusual for a white wine, and then barrel aged for 5 years. The end result is a big, bold interpretation of Chardonnay, orangey gold in color and meant for food pairing rather than leisurely sipping. It would be a good match for hard cheeses or spicy hummus.
Másut Vineyard & Winery in Mendocino California is owned by the third generation of the well-known Fetzer family – Ben and Jake. Their 2012 Pinot Noir (retail $40) is produced from organically farmed estate vineyards. The yield is low, about 3 tons per acre and grapes are all hand sorted. This attention to craft continues through the winemaking stage and the wines are aged in 33% new French oak barrels for 10 months.
The result is a New World style Pinot with dark silky berry notes showing a hint of clove, cigar box and kirsch.
This wine was paired with Mushroom Risotto, which was terrific, as were some spicy lamb meatballs.
Another Pinot Noir followed, this time from the Sonoma Coast. Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard 2012. (retail $54) This is the flagship vineyard for Sojourn with low yields and high quality fruit. Berries are sorted in the vineyard and again after harvest leading to small lot fermentation and barrel aging.
This Pinot shows ‘Old World’ flair – soft strawberry, cherry and dried raspberry fruit, with rose petal and earthy, forest tones. In classic, Burgundian style it proved to be a great sipper and was equally at home with savory ‘gourgere’ cheese puffs, as well as the risotto.
Staying in California, we moved on to Tudal Family Winery ‘Cliff Vineyard’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. (retail $65) This small, two acre, vineyard, lies just north of Napa in the Oak Knoll district and yields a small 200 cases.
Aged for 12 to 18 months in 80% French and 20% new American oak barrels, this wine has a gorgeous deep garnet color. Aromas of ripe forest fruits and vanilla lead to walnut, humidor and roasted green pepper on the palate with medium tannin.
Bolognese stuffed Bell Peppers were a terrific compliment to the wine.
Another Cabernet followed, also from Napa, Ca’ Momi 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (retail $65). This winery was started in 2006 by three Italian winemakers who fell in love with Napa. After consulting and working with many of the finest growers in the area, they decided to produce their own wines and knew the best fruit to source.
The 2011 Cabernet has lots too offer – jammy berries and dark currents, with tones of tobacco and dried sweet grass. It paired well with the food offerings at hand but I think it would be a terrific choice with the wonderful offerings at Ca’ Momi’s ‘Enoteca’ in Napa!
Provenance Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Oakville Beckstoffer to Kalon Vineyards’ 2010 (retail $89) was our last red of the evening. With fruit hailing from one of the most historic vineyard sites in the Oakville region of Napa, the wine is a true American Cab. Deep ruby hues meet rich blueberry and black fruit, laced with fresh sweet baking spices, toasty oak and licorice. The tannins are supple and refined making this a fantastic, versatile choice for food or to savor on its own.
Our last selection was a complete departure both in style and geography – a Czech ‘Straw wine’. Slámové Vino, Ryzlink Rynsky from Mercincak Winery. (retail $63 for 375ml) This rich and refreshing dessert wine is created with Riesling grapes that are harvested late in the season so the berries are high in sugar and low in water. The clusters spend four to six months resting on straw mats. During this stage sugar levels increase before the grapes are crushed. The fermented wine is then aged in barrel. The result is a wine moderate in alcohol, around 11% and very high in residual sugar!
This winery is the largest Biodynamic grower in the Czech republic and has been specializing in traditional grape varieties and styles since 2008. This incredible attention to detail shows in the beautiful balance of the wine. The fresh acidity ensures that the sweetness doesn’t overpower, so you have a silky nectar filled with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, rich citrus and fragrant honey. A tropical fruit trifle proved a tasty companion.
So, what was it about these wines that merit the price? A combination of elements can contribute – extended barrel aging and the continuous attention of the winemaker, new (and pricey) oak, hand sorting of the grapes both in the vineyard and at the crushpad, small lots and sought after vineyards.
All these wines shared a common denominator: dedication to quality. That’s something you probably won’t find in a $4 bottle!
1 “Consumer Wine Trends” Erin Guenther, winebusiness.com Jan. 21/2013
Wine lover, educator and writer.